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Tune Tag #2 with Andy of "The Vinyl Room": Mariah, Sting, Sinatra, Ella, Bowie & More!
The magical musical game of Song Baton, or Tune Tag, where one song leads to another, with surprising twists and turns in style, era, and genre! Join the fun!
Today’s Tune Tag pits FRONT ROW & BACKSTAGE’s Brad Kyle with Andy Celati and his “The Vinyl Room” on Substack!
Ideally, each track we send the other will have some tie-in with the one we were previously sent! Whether thematically or musically, the challenge is to pick a common element for a song to send to the other player.
Play along with Andy and me, if you’d like (which song would you follow with? Leave us a comment!), and consider playing Tune Tag with a friend, in real life, or virtually!
Andy, Track #1: “Lisa Sawyer” by Leon Bridges
Following Brad’s and Val’s game of Baton (aka Tune Tag, which you can check out by clicking here), I commented that I love Leon Bridges. Brad said he wasn’t too familiar with his work and suggested he and I should play this game using a Leon Bridges song of my choosing as a starting point.
I chose this track for several reasons. I wanted something from Leon’s debut album, which I think is his best work. Not only does this track showcase the beauty of Leon’s smooth vocals but it also lays a nice foundation for a game like this: from here, you can go soul, blues, R&B… even doo-wop wouldn’t be far-fetched.
Thematically, you can explore something more nostalgic/sentimental or go a bit spicier. I was curious to see what direction Brad would take…
Brad’s response: I wasn’t sure I’d heard of, or heard any, Leon Bridges. As I sometimes do, though, I over-thought this from the start, and said to myself: “Ah, a duet, eh? This Leon Bridges guy with some gal named Lisa Sawyer….wow, I hope she’s good!”
So, I started conjuring up male/female duets I’ve heard and liked before I even listened! And, of course, “Lisa Sawyer” is nothing more or other than a wonderful song about his mother from Bridges’ debut Columbia Records album, Coming Home, released late in 2014. Home for Bridges, as it happens, is Texas…Ft. Worth, where he was raised, after his 1989 Atlanta birth, making him 34, exactly half my age!
Bridges’ leap to stardom was pretty startling: In the span of 6 months in 2014, he went from a being 25-year-old Ft. Worth dish-washer to Columbia Records’ newest signee!
Brad, Track #2, “No Gettin’ Over You” (live) by Bonnie Raitt and Keb’ Mo’
Because I originally thought Andy’s great Leon Bridges song was a duet (and was apparently too stubborn—and/or lazy—to look up another song after discovering it wasn’t!), I landed on Bonnie Raitt’s original “No Gettin’ Over You,” recorded live with Keb’ Mo’ guesting on this song from Raitt’s 2006 album, Bonnie Raitt and Friends on Capitol Records.
Bonnie has long been a favorite since I met her in 1972, backstage after her Houston show at Liberty Hall (call her Rock Star Crush #1, Female Division). I was 17 at the time, and a high school senior:
As her career progressed, I was inspired by her relentless desire to spotlight older, and many times, forgotten blues players like Sippie Wallace, Ruth Brown, and Charles Brown.
In fact, her contributions to the blues have also included assisting artists in recovery of their royalties as co-founder of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, helping to fund headstones and memorials, and quietly, even sometimes anonymously, donating money to blues singers in need.
Keb’ Mo’ (Kevin Moore) is 71, and a 5-time Grammy winner from south L.A.
Andy’s reply: I love both Bonnie Raitt and Keb’ Mo’, so I was very pleased with Brad’s choice, especially as I didn’t know that this collaboration existed.
And of course, Keb’ Mo’ is from Texas… and so is Leon Bridges! I know Brad didn’t know a lot about Leon, but this can’t be a coincidence, right? I’m sure Brad, as a Texan, already knew Leon was from Texas, or did a quick Google search to either find out or confirm.
Okay, so we’ve got… male + female collab, bluesy, Texas… I think I’ve got this:
Andy, Track #3: “I Pity the Fool” by Robert Cray and Shemekia Copeland
Andy: If we’re doing blues and Texas, of course we have to invite Johnny Copeland to the party! Now, I wanted to continue with the trend of duets, and I didn’t want to spoil the fun by making the Texas connection too obvious, so this collaboration immediately came to mind.
Robert Cray is one of my favourite blues artists of all time, and he played with Johnny Copeland, alongside Albert Collins, in 1985’s Showdown. Shemekia Copeland is another favourite of mine and, crucially, Johnny’s daughter.
I was curious to see Brad’s reaction: while I’m sure he will know about Johnny Copeland, how familiar will be he with his daughter Shemekia? Will he get the subtle Texas reference? So many questions… In any case, this performance is a showstopper, so I hope he enjoyed it!
Brad’s response: I’m not aware of much about Johnny Copeland (nor any of his progeny), so color Brad being schooled! Born in Louisiana in 1937, Johnny soon settled in this writer’s hometown of Houston, and formed the Dukes of Rhythm in 1956, the year after my birth, and released his debut on Duke Records (meet the label’s owner in a couple paragraphs). Johnny passed away in 1997 at age 60.
Shemekia (above) was born in 1979. At 19, she signed a deal with Alligator Records, who released her debut album, Turn the Heat Up! in 1998. Since then, she’s had albums produced by the late Dr. John and 2-time Grammy winner, Steve Cropper, a member of the Stax Records house band.
This Bobby “Blue” Bland song, “I Pity the Fool,” appeared on the Tennessee native’s Two Steps From the Blues 1961 album on Houston’s Duke Records (album jacket shown below). The song was written by Deadric Malone (founder of Peacock Records, also Houston-based; he also eventually owned Duke, merging the two companies), a pseudonym sometimes used by producer and record executive, Don Robey (1903-1975), shown here:
Robey (born of a white mother and Black father) used the pseudonym to help collect the royalties due him in a still-segregated south.
Brad, Track #4: “The Lady is a Tramp” by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, live TV performance
Andy’s response: Okay, so it seems the Texan is taking a little break from Texas (unless I am completely missing something), but has uncovered this precious gem which I didn’t know about.
The voices, my goodness. What a treat!
I’m sure there is a connection with the previous track, which Brad will be quick to point out, but for now, I’ll just enjoy this fantastic duet. Two absolute legends.
Brad’s reply: Faced with matching Andy’s previous guy/gal duet of Cray and Copeland (and their stirring performances), I thought of my two favorite 20th century interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Frank and Ella! Once I found this incredible clip, I included it in my e-mail to Andy, with just this: “Oh, it’s on, bruh…it is so on!”
The phrasing, the timing, the ease, the class, the swingin’, the arrangement….that band! No one could beat these two at the top of their game singing this classic Rodgers and Hart 1937 chestnut in this 1967 Sinatra TV special!
Andy: Now, if I’m not mistaken, Brad’s favourite female vocalist is Ella, so I’m thinking… is this the theme now? Are we both taking a little break and showcasing our favourite female vocalists?
Game on! But it kinda has to fit within the whole duet thing, right? Okay, say no more….
Brad: But, mad props to Andy for coming ding-dang-doodle close to matching the Frank’n’Ella turn with this jaw-dropping duet of two magnificent voices:
Andy, Track #5: “Endless Love” by Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross
If we’re talking technically brilliant female singers, of course I had to go with Mariah. This duet is beautiful (I am biased, but I actually like it better than the original, particularly this live performance).
Mariah’s and Luther’s voices blend so nicely together, and the emotion in their voices (and faces!) is undeniable.
In addition, I thought this would be a good move on my part as it would give Brad a couple of different angles or directions to choose from. A cover, a classic ballad, a love song, two singers with legendary careers, covering two other singers with legendary careers from another generation… I was really curious to see where Brad would take it from here:
Brad’s response: Two more superstar singers for whom one name is enough, Mariah and Luther tackle and seduce Lionel Richie’s composition, “Endless Love.” The song was a Lionel and Diana Ross hit in 1981 (for Richie’s first post-Commodores single…and hit).
Brad, Track #6: “Young Americans” by David Bowie and Luther Vandross, live TV performance, December, 1974 (The Dick Cavett Show)
We can tell by Andy’s follow-up to this song that he thought I was changing things up (and, I’m sure he’s not alone)! But, alas, I’ve got another Vandross duet following his Luther/Mariah coupling! This is one of the many things that make this game so fun and challenging!
Andy’s response: Mmm… interesting. Very interesting choice. Now, I may have read at some point, if memory serves, that Luther sang background for… of course! David Bowie! In fact, he sings background in this song, doesn’t he?
Very smart move. Okay, I cannot mess it up now. This is where I really need to up my game; this might be my most crucial move in the whole game. The bar is too high now. I seriously don’t want to disappoint Brad (or anyone reading this). It’s nearly bedtime here in London, so I’ll get some rest and plot my next move.
Talking of London, I note Brad has brought a Brit to the scene. Isn’t it funny that I gave him Texas and he’s now giving me Britain? (Brad:😱! Nice catch, Andy. A happy accident!)
Brad’s reply: Luther was all of 23 when he was secured by Bowie as a back-up singer, which meant he traveled with Bowie on “The Diamond Dogs Tour” the last half of 1974, which included this Dick Cavett Show taping in New York City in late ‘74!
That’s Luther on the far left of the line of backing singers in the hideous powder-blue leisure suit (don’t blame Luther…blame the decade)!
Bowie is noticeably hoarse in this clip (avoiding any high notes…if you know the song, you know where those notes are!), and with good reason: He had just completed nearly six months of “The Diamond Dogs Tour,” promoting his Diamond Dogs album, released by RCA Records May 24, 1974; the 78-date North American tour kicked off three weeks later.
While he didn’t appear on Diamond Dogs, Luther sang back-up on Bowie’s Young Americans album, released in early March 1975, but was recorded—get this—during tour off-days from August 1974 through January ‘75…during “The Diamond Dogs Tour” (they used Philly’s Sigma Sound and two NYC studios)! It’s a wonder Bowie could speak, much less sing!
Luther actually penned a song on Young Americans, as well. As originally written by Vandross, “Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)” was re-worked by Bowie (mostly re-written lyrics) and he turned it into “Fascination”:
When Bowie asked Vandross for permission to record “Funky Music” himself (according to music writer, Chris O’Leary in his 2015 book, Rebel Rebel), Vandross responded, “What do you mean ‘let’ you record it? I’m living in a building with an elevator that barely works, and you’re asking me to ‘let’ you record one of my songs?”
“Fascination” became Luther’s first published songwriting credit.
Andy continues: I need to listen to Bowie’s song more carefully. All right, I see thematically it fits into the “Brit singing about American life” canon. The first thing that comes to mind is Sting’s “Englishman in New York”. Shall I send him that, then? For some reason it doesn’t fully convince me.
Let me listen to Bowie’s track again… isn’t that line from “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles? Shall I just go with that track? No, let me try a little harder.
Okay, so who’s covered “A Day in the Life”? I’ll need to do some research on this….Oh, so Sting has actually covered it?! You’re joking. This has to be a sign. Okay, I’ll go with that, then…
Andy, Track #7: “A Day in the Life” by Sting (live, 2005)
I was obviously very curious to see how much Brad would pick up on. Crucially, I didn’t know whether he was getting my references, or whether there were references he wanted me to pick up on that I was completely missing.
Some of these elements or details are very subtle, so I’m sure there’s stuff we’re both missing (for sure I am).
Okay, at least I’m bringing the Beatles to the stage. It’s his favourite band of all time, after all, so I’m sure he’ll know where to go from here…
Brad’s response: Sting spoke to YouTube personality, Rick Beato, in 2021 about the influence The Beatles had on him growing up (according to UK’s FarOutMagazine.com): “They were from Liverpool, I was from Newcastle; both port towns in the north of England – working class. They had the same education as me, I went to grammar school; they were scholarship boys. Smart working-class kids.”
During the interview, which included Sting’s longtime guitarist, Argentinian Dominic Miller (seen in the performance above), the pair were asked to name the most important Beatles tracks for them. Sting picked out ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Penny Lane’ as his personal favorites, while Miller chose ‘A Day In The Life,’ which may help explain its inclusion in Sting’s concert set list. Sting was about 13 when The Beatles broke worldwide in 1964; Miller was 4.
I was surprised to see and hear Sting cover this revered Beatles track. His band adds a little swing to it, as well, which was fun to see; Sting’s slight grin throughout helps lighten the tune; it would be so easy to leaden this song with an overly-serious, plodding arrangement.
Brad, Track #8: “Sgt. Pepper Reprise” + “A Day in the Life” by Rangzen
My first thought was a Beatles cover I’ve liked for years. The first that came to mind (and was, likely, obscure enough to be interesting for most) was “Anytime at All” by Youngstown, Ohio’s power-pop stalwarts, Blue Ash, from their Mercury Records 1973 debut, No More, No Less.
Then (as it usually does), just a little more research unearthed this earnest and impressive cover by a band I was completely unaware of: Rangzen, and this live cover medley of two classic Fab Four songs, including “A Day in the Life”.
I was looking hard for glimpses of parody or any signs of a lightweight “interpretive” approach on this live performance video, and happily, found none. They mean it:
Andy’s response: Another Beatles tribute, and a great one, which I didn’t know about. The energy coming off that stage is contagious. I wasn’t familiar with Rangzen, but I really enjoyed this.
Okay, so my next move is my last one. Shall I take us back to Texas? If only I could find a Beatles cover sung by Leon Bridges! Can you imagine?
I search and search to no avail. Okay, let me try something different. Another Texan singer. And for the finale, I want something explosive. Someone who can take an explosive Beatles song and make it even more explosive. A singer with strong pipes who can pull a showstopper if needs be.
I think I’ve got it…
Andy, Track #9: “Oh! Darling” by Kelly Clarkson
“Oh! Darling” has always been my favourite Beatles song. And, as we started with some bluesy and soulful vibes, I felt it was fitting to finish on a similar note.
The original is unbeatable but I quite like what Kelly did with it. Without deviating too much from the original arrangement, she made it her own, which I guess you kinda have to when covering this song.
While I don’t follow Kelly’s material too closely, I always enjoy hearing her sing (plus the Mariah influence is undeniable).
I’m curious to see Brad’s response…
Brad, Track #10: “Imagine” by David Archuleta
I followed one American Idol (the first winner, Kelly, in their inaugural 2002 season) with the runner-up of the show’s 2008 seventh season, David Archuleta. I saw both seasons, and every one in between, fan that I was! In fact, six years before, I had seen David on his winning turn on Star Search in 2002!
I wonder if Andy spotted Kelly in the above video’s 2002 Idol clip that showed an 11-year-old David singing in the Idol singers’ Hollywood hotel lobby during Finals week! Kelly was watching with mouth agape, and playfully swatted David with her sweatshirt!
Andy’s response: Beautiful. Funny how I gave him Paul and he comes back with John! And within the American Idol ecosystem. Very smart choice.
David’s beautiful rendition gives the original a strong soulful vibe… not too dissimilar to the Leon Bridges song I sent Brad when we started this game, wouldn’t you agree?We’ve come full circle, and boy, what a fun ride this was!
Brad: I echo that, Andy, and thanks!